Rank #1: Space News Round Table: Starship, Exoplanets & Human Space Flight
It’s been a busy few days for space news. We’re unrolling a new segment on the podcast this week — a round table of space journalists based here in Florida to break down the latest headlines and offer insight and analysis of all the top space news stories.
The Orlando Sentinel’s Chabeli Herrera, WKMG’s Emilee Speck and Florida Today’s Emre Kelly join the podcast to talk about SpaceX’s Starship development, the search for exoplanets and NASA’s missions to launch humans to the International Space Station and the moon.
This conversation was recorded Monday, August 5th at 9:00 a.m. By the time you get to listen to this episode, some details might have changed.
Rank #2: The Martian
We’re going to Mars.
Not right now, but soon. There’s a lot of work that goes into sending humans to a completely different world. Engineering new spacecraft, and new space suits. We’ve gotta figure out if humans can live and work in space for a deep space journey. And how do you feed them? Are they going to go crazy on the trip?
And what can we expect when we get there? What’s the surface of Mars like? Can we live and work there?
But before we look to space, before we leave the atmospheres, and before we head to Mars, let’s start at a place a little more familiar to us. Hollywood.
The Oscar-nominated blockbuster movie “The Martian” follows stranded Mars astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon. Most of the technology in the movie is stuff NASA and other agencies use for deep space and planetary exploration.
“The Martian” is based on the novel with the same name, written by Andy Weir. He joins the program to talk about his inspiration for the book and his thoughts on planetary exploration.
Listen to the next episode: RED ROVER, RED ROVER
Rank #3: NASA’s TESS Space Telescope Uncovers Hundreds Of New Worlds Outside Our Solar System
NASA’s planet hunting satellite has completed its first year of science in space. The spacecraft searched the southern sky for signs of so-called exoplanets. The mission seeks to answer one of science’s age-old questions: are we alone in the universe?
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, identifies planets outside our solar system by staring at the stars. When a planet passes between the star and the spacecraft, the light of that star dims. TESS measures the dip in light — and scientists can use that data to determine what kind of planet is causing the dimming.
This week, NASA announced TESS has found a new planet about 31 light years away that exists in the so-called habitable zone — meaning it’s the right distance away from its host star to have liquid water.
The observations will help future telescopes, both on the ground and in space, make even more detailed observations of these planets and search for signs of life.
To talk about the spacecraft’s first year of science, we’re joined by Mark Clampin. He’s the Director of the Sciences and Exploration Directorate and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Rank #4: Musk, Mars & Battlestar Galactica
Elon Musk wants to go to Mars.
The SpaceX founder and multi-planetary visionary outlined his plan to colonize Mars at a talk at the International Astronautical Congress.His plan included an interplanetary space ship system capable of taking people by the hundreds to the red planet as early as the next decade.
Elon Musk gave the talk in front of space industry experts, journalist and exploration enthusiasts. Robin Seemangal, a reporter for The Observer, was in the audience. He joins us from Guadalajara, Mexico
Rank #5: How To Survive On Mars
When the first Martians arrive on the red planet, not much awaits them. There’s no food, no breathable air, no fuel. All they’ll have is what they brought with them — not much. That’s why researchers and engineers are developing the technology that will take what’s on Mars and turn it into much needed food, water and life-saving oxygen.
Listen back to WMFE’s Speak Series “How To Survive on Mars” with a panel of experts researching the tech that goes into making vital resources on a mission to Mars. Recorded in front of a live audience May 10, 2017 at the studios of WMFE in Orlando, Florida.
Nicole Dufour, NASA, Project Manager, VEGGIE
Dufour oversees the VEGGIE experiment, a garden of vegetables on the International Space Station. Astronauts are growing lettuce and cabbage thanks to Dufour and her team, and they’re learning vital lessons in plant growth in microgravity.
Annie Meier, NASA, Chemical Engineer, Exploration Research & Technology Programs
Meier is transforming trash into vital gases like methane, oxygen and water. Her trash-to-gas technology can be used to recycle dinner scraps, wrappers and packaging (and even poo!) into gases that can be used for life support on long duration missions. Meier tested the tech on NASA’s HI-SEAS mission, a simulated 6-month stay on a Martian base-camp.
Dan Batcheldor, Florida Institute of Technology, Department Head, Physics & Space Science
The physics department at FIT is working with NASA to develop dirt that is similar to Martian regolith. The goal is to figure out how to grow crops at a Martian base camp. Researchers at FIT are also trying to grow plants in the Mars-simulant. Batcheldor is an advocate for science literacy, and wrote the book “Astronomy Saves the World: Securing our Future Through Exploration and Education.”
Rank #6: Meet The Leader Of “The Mars Generation”
Abigail Harrison wants to be the first person on Mars, and she’s on a mission to inspire others to help with those efforts.
That’s why she stated The Mars Generation, a non-profit dedicated to getting young people involved in STEM and space exploration. The group hosts various outreach events and offers a scholarship for low-income students to attend space camp.
Abigail Harrison, otherwise known as Astronaut Abby, joins us from her home in the Twin Cities, to talk about these efforts.
Rank #7: Red Rover, Red Rover
Before we send humans to new worlds, we’re sending robots first.
Currently, there are two rovers exploring the surface of Mars, Opportunity and Curiosity. They’re both responsible for uncovering scientific data from the red planet that help us better understand the surface of Mars – what was once there and what to expect when we get there?
Opportunity, launched in 2003, is uncovering what was once on Mars and searching for evidence of water by examining rocks found on the surface.
Curiosity, launched in 2011, followed in the footsteps of Opportunity by searching for clues to the red planet’s past. But this mobile lab has more sophisticated equipment and an array of high-definition cameras. We’re seeing images of the surface of Mars we’ve never seen before. Curiosity, with a social media personality of its own, is capturing the attention of folks back here on Earth with robotic Martian selfies posted to Twitter.
There’s a whole slew of new probes heading to Mars, and other destinations of our Solar System, that will help get humans to new worlds.
Emilee Speck writes for Orlando Sentinel’s ‘Go For Launch’ blog about these probes and rovers, and she joins me to bring us up-to-speed on what’s happening in space.
Listen to the next episode: BUILDING A DEEP SPACE CAPSULE
Rank #8: Exciting Year Ahead For Space Exploration
There’s a bunch of exciting space exploration mission slated for 2018. From SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to NASA’s next Mars lander, space enthusiasts have a lot to look forward to in the new year.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceflight.com‘s managing editor, joins the program to talk about all the exciting missions ahead this year.
Highlights from Chris’ 2018 watch list:
Even thought Cassini crashed into Saturn last year, Gebhardt said there’s still plenty to learn about the ringed planet. “Towards the latter part of it’s final orbits, it was actually brushing up against the top of Saturn’s atmosphere and dip-diving into Saturn,” he said. “All of that data, while it was returned last year in the final days of Cassin’s mission, scientists are analyzing it and looking at all of that.”
This Planetary Society-backed project hopes to provide spacecraft propulsion by harnessing the power of the sun in a space “sail”. LightSail captures the particles released from the sun and uses them to push a sail through space. “Once it’s in orbit, it’s going to deploy this really huge sail relative to the size of the spacecraft itself. What they’re going to try to do is use that sail to progressively raise that satellites orbit,” said Gebhardt.
The mission is slated for a launch on Falcon Heavy later this year.
New Horizons Flyby
In 20115, New Horizons thrust Pluto back into the spotlight after sending incredible images of the dwarf planet back to Earth. The spacecraft is now targeting a flyby of Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69.
“This mission just keeps on giving in very surprising and intriguing ways,” said Gebhardt. “It’s revealing a lot about a region of the solar system that’s very difficult to see.” The flyby begins in the early hours of January 1, 2019 — but most of the prep is happening in 2018.
The InSight lander launches en route to Mars from South America in May, and when it gets there, it hopes to uncover how rocky planets of the inner solar system, including Earth, came to be more than four billion years ago.
“What’s really cool is that there are CubeSats going on this mission,” said Gebhardt. The tiny satellites will be deployed right before the lander makes its final approach of the red planet, and they’ll be used to help navigate the lander onto the surface of Mars and relay all that information back to Earth. “It’s a really cool experiment to use CubeSats to really help maintain contact with landing spacecraft on another planet.”
Rank #9: Searching For Alien Worlds
A new space telescope will help scientists identify alien worlds.
NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Space Coast. Once in space, it will look for planets outside our solar system by observing nearby stars.
Sara Seager is an astrophysicist at MIT and the Deputy Science Director of the TESS mission. She hopes the discoveries of these planets, called exoplanets, can help us find other Earth-like planets and eventually the evidence of life outside our world.
Rank #10: Building A Deep Space Capsule
If we’re going to go to Mars, we’re going to need a new spacecraft. That’s what NASA’s Orion capsule is for.
It looks like the capsules of the Apollo days. Engineers say the capsule’s shape is perfect for deep space exploration and re-entry into the atmosphere. But it’s a bit bigger than the Apollo command module. It was originally designed to hold six astronauts.
Engineers are borrowing what they learned from the shuttle program, too. Decades of space exploration are coming together for this crew capsule.
In 2014, NASA launched an Orion into a high orbit around the Earth to test the capsule’s structure and heat shield. They called that test flight EFT-1, and by all accounts the mission was a success.
Their sights are now set on Exploration Mission One, or EM-1, an unpiloted mission set for 2018 that will send the Orion capsule into space, past the moon and back.
So what goes into designing the next big thing in space exploration? And how are engineers preparing for the next test flight?
Orion Engineer Stu McClug gave me a call from his office in Houston to bring me up to speed on Orion and the new rocket they’re designing to blast it into deep space.
Listen to previous episodes:
Rank #11: A Mission To Touch The Sun
A spacecraft is about to launch on a mission to the sun, coming closer than any other spacecraft has ever come before and zooming through the solar system with mind-boggling speed.
The Parker Solar Probe is being sent to our star to study its corona. Scientists hope they can uncover some of the mysteries of the corona and help better predict space weather. And because we probably won’t get to any other stars anytime soon, scientists say they’ll use the data from the mission to better understand the other stars in our universe.
Parker launches from Kennedy Space Center August 11 on a ULA Delta IV Heavy. Ahead of the launch, we spoke with Alex Young, Associate Director for Science, Heliophysics Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
Rank #12: Martian Farmers
Ralph Fritsche is a lot like Mark Watney. He’s growing potatoes in Martian regolith. And as we’ll find out, it’s harder than it looks.
Last episode, we learned about NASA’s Veggie experiment. Another experiment, the Advanced Plant Habitat, is heading up to the International Space Station in March. It’s a self-contained unit that allows even greater tweaking of space farming on the station and it’s the next step in unlocking the secrets to growing plants in space. In true NASA fashion, you’ll hear it referred to in acronym form during this episode: APH.
While engineers and scientists get ready to launch that experiment, Fritsche is busy working on the next steps – growing food on other worlds. He works with botanists here on earth to figure out what martians will plant, grow and eat when they get to the red planet.
Rank #13: The Everyday Astronaut
It started with a space suit, a bit of imagination and a near-death experience.
After photographer Tim Dodd impulsively bought an old Russian space suit, he became the everyday astronaut. Now, his photo series brings the magic, humor and human aspect of space-flight to the masses. And he’s getting to visit some cool places along the way.
Find Tim’s photography online at www.everydyastronaut.com and check out his online store
Rank #14: From Moonshot To Mars: A History Lesson
John F. Kennedy’s speech sent the U.S. on a moonshot and by the end of the decade, just as he said, we put men on the moon.
Now, we’re looking to Mars as our next moon-shot with visionaries like NASA’s Charlie Bolden and SpaceX’s Elon Musk promising to send humans to the red planet.
But it takes more than just a speech, and there’s speed bumps along the way. We’re going to shift gears a bit here and take a historical look at the programs that achieved enormous goals but also look at some of the low points in space history.
Joining us this week is Michael McConville. He has an interesting perspective to bring to the program. Michael is a space geek, and coordinator at the Buehler Planetarium and Seminole State College here in Central Florida. He’s also a professor of History at the University of Central Florida.
Rank #15: I’m Gonna Be Sick
John French wants to make people throw up. But don’t worry, it’s for science!
He’s a professor of Human Factors at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach Florida. He’s studying motion sickness, and the effects it has on astronauts. To do that, he makes his subjects sick by placing them in an optokinetic drum: a cylinder with a chair in the middle. The inside is painted with black and white stripes. The cylinder, or drum, then rotates around the subject and in a few minutes they start to feel the symptoms of motion sickness.
So how does this apply to space travel? And what other physiological challenges do humans still have to overcome to spend a long time in space? We take a trip to John’s lab to find out.
Rank #16: NASA’s Next Generation Of Astronauts
Last week, NASA announced Commercial Crew mission assignments. The Commercial Crew program will launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011. NASA is doing it with private companies SpaceX and Boeing.
In this episode we’ll meet the astronauts flying on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner: Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann, Suni Williams, Josh Cassada and Eric Boe.
Also, SpaceNews.com’s senior staff writer Jeff Foust brings us up to speed on the latest developments of the Commercial Crew program ahead of a launch later this year.
Rank #17: James Webb Is Seein’ Red
We’re about to see things in the universe never before seen. The James Webb Space Telescope is huge and it’s going to give us a peek at things from a perspective we haven’t seen before.
The Webb as the call it will look at objects in the universe unfiltered by our atmosphere and by using infrared sensors. We’re going to be able to see through clouds of gas and dust and look at stars that have gone undiscovered.
The telescope is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. It’s being assembled now with a launch scheduled in 2018.
Watching over that development effort is NASA’s John Mather. He joins us via skype from the Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.
Rank #18: Oh My: George Takei Talks Science Fiction, Technology, And Interplanetary Equality
George Takei is best known for his role as Sulu, helmsmen on the USS Enterprise during the show Star Trek. While the show only lasted 3 seasons, its legacy lives on, spawning multiple shows and movies within the franchise.
Today, Takei is an advocate for equality, space exploration and science education. And later this month, he’s visiting Rollins College.
But before he makes the trip to Florida, George took some time to chat with “Are We There Yet?” about Star Trek, science fiction, and equality in the 23rd century.
Rank #19: Put A Ring On It
The Cassini spacecraft has been exploring Saturn since launching in 1997. Cassini gave planetary scientists incredible insight into the planet’s rings, it’s surface and moons. Now, the spacecraft is entering it’s final phase before crashing into the surface of Saturn.
Image of Saturn’s rings processed by Colwell. NASA/JPL/University of Colorado
UCF Professor and Planetary Scientist Josh Colwell has been working on the spacecraft since he started his career as a planetary scientist and Colwell’s research interest include studying the rings of Saturn.
Colwell joins the program to talk about the end of the Cassini mission, the rings of Saturn, and how understanding Saturn gives us a glimpse of the dawn of our solar system.
You can hear Colwell and his planetary colleagues talk more about all things astronomy on his podcast Walkabout the Galaxy.
Rank #20: The Glass Universe: How Harvard Women Measured The Stars
‘The Glass Universe’ explores how the women of Harvard Observatory in 1890 broke through the gender barrier and revolutionized the way astronomers observe the night sky.
Dava Sobel is a former New York Times science reporter and longtime contributor to The New Yorker. Her latest book, the Glass Universe, looks at the women at Harvard Observatory and how they were breaking ground not only because of their gender, but because of the scientific observations they were making in the field of astronomy.